Clear Signs Of The Digital Divide Between Chicago’s North And South Sides
More than half of the residents living in Chicago’s Englewood community don’t have internet access at home.
A WBEZ analysis of new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week shows that 56 percent of Englewood households reported not having an internet subscription. That rate is comparable to rates among Native Americans living in rural communities.
The census data included annual surveys from 2013 through 2017 and included figures for internet access through dial-up, broadband, and cellular devices.
Other Chicago neighborhoods where nearly half the households lacked internet access include West Englewood (51 percent), Riverdale (49 percent), Auburn Gresham, and South Shore (both 46 percent), according to the WBEZ analysis.
Quabeeny Daniels, youth coordinator with the civic engagement nonprofit Mikva Challenge, says the Internet is a crucial resource for residents young and old.
“The lack of access to internet is a barrier to the community,” he said. “Students can’t do their homework; residents are not able to complete job applications.”
Daniels grew up on the city’s Southwest Side and said living in an under-resourced community can create additional challenges for students. He works with many kids who don’t have online access at home and says these kids don’t have equal access to information.
Englewood households were five times more likely to be without internet access than households in some North Side communities. For example, just one in every 10 households in North Side communities Lake View, Lincoln Park, and North Center lacked access to the web.
The hardest issue to tackle when it comes to equitable access to Internet services is broadband policy, says Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
Under current policy, he said, the majority of residents in rural North Dakota have better internet access than residents of some Chicago neighborhoods. Internet companies have a good incentive to invest more in affluent neighborhoods where they can get a return on their investment, Mitchell says.
This week the U.S. Census Bureau released its five-year American Community Survey estimates for the period from 2013 through 2017. It’s the first time the Census released data detailed enough to tabulate internet access figures for Chicago community areas.
María Ines Zamudio covers immigration for WBEZ. Follow her @mizamudio.